A 2021 legislative session that promises to be unlike any in the Maryland General Assembly’s history will make advocacy on the part of the state’s CPAs more important than ever.
That’s the word from Maryland Association of CPAs CEO Tom Hood, who — like Maryland’s lawmakers — is preparing for a CPA Day in Annapolis that will be unlike any event the MACPA’s legislative team has ever held.
The culprit behind these unprecedented events, of course, is COVID-19.
As cases continue to surge throughout the state, lawmakers have announced that members of the public, activists, and lobbyists will have no access to the State House, hearing rooms, or legislative offices during this year’s legislative session. The Senate and House of Delegates chambers likewise will be off limits.
“Anyone else who wants to watch the legislative sessions, where bills are introduced and final debates and votes are held, will have to tune into a video stream on the General Assembly’s website,” The Baltimore Sun reported on Nov. 6. “… Committee hearings — where much of the legislative work is done — and committee voting sessions will be held via video meetings and streamed online.”
And what of constituents who wish to testify about specific bills? “The Senate plans to limit live video testimony on bills to just a handful of proponents and opponents who largely would be designated by lawmakers,” The Sun reports. “The House will allow people to sign up for speaking slots the day before hearings.”
That means changes for the MACPA’s annual CPA Day in Annapolis as well.
For one thing, the event won’t be in Annapolis. It will be a virtual event in which participants (a) are coached online about the issues of the day, and (b) are advised on how to present our profession’s position on those issues without having physical access to their lawmakers.
It sounds constricting, but Hood said the restrictions might actually play to the profession’s advantage. While a live CPA Day in Annapolis might draw between 200 and 300 CPAs to the state’s capital, this year’s virtual event could eclipse that exponentially.
“Imagine if 1,000 — or I’d love all 8,000 of our members to do this — but imagine if they all sent an e-mail to their legislators telling them which issues we care about, and then said, ‘Oh, by the way, I’m a CPA in your district.’ Wow, what that would do,” Hood said. “Then, when we have a big issue come up in a committee or on the House or Senate floor, we could ask our members to reconnect with their legislators on those committees and reinforce our position. That’s how we could be even more formidable than if we did it in person.”
And what are the issues we’re following this year? Hood breaks them down as follows:
- Stop onerous COVID-19 employer / business regulations: If you, as an organization, follow all state and federal guidelines for keeping your employees healthy, should you be liable if one of your workers becomes ill? We would say, “No.” Virginia passed an aggressive employer / business COVID-19 regulation which includes fines of up to $130,000. This increases the risk of frivolous claims against employers, which should not be allowed if the employers follow Maryland and federal guidance. We would oppose any legislation that could fine employers if their workers fall ill, even if those employers followed all recognized guidelines for employee health and safety. Likewise, we would support legislation that prevents employees from suing organizations that followed all recommended state and federal protocols.
- Sales taxes on professional services: This was one of the MACPA’s biggest victories in 2020, and it remains a huge risk in 2021. The state has spent a huge amount of money on COVID-19 relief. Lawmakers will want to recoup that money. How will they do it? Sales taxes on professional services — like those that CPAs provide — will be attractive options that lawmakers will consider. We will oppose all efforts to tax these services.
- Stop onerous data privacy legislation: The MACPA will oppose efforts to legislate data privacy that are similar to the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation and California’s similar Consumer Privacy Act, which are “onerous and costly for employers to implement,” Hood said. “We love the idea of privacy and security of data. We just think this is the wrong way to go about it.”
- Professional licenses: The MACPA will aggressively oppose efforts to weaken or eliminate professional licensing boards, a deregulatory risk that has risen in several other states recently.
- Tax issues: MACPA volunteers also will be closely monitoring legislation related to Maryland tax policy and offering our insights as needed. In particular, we will support technical corrections related to last year’s Senate Bill 523, “Income Tax – Pass-Through Entities and Corporations.”
What can you do to help?
Hood offers these suggestions:
- Register to attend our virtual CPA Day: It’s free, it’s worth two hours of CPE, and it will make the biggest legislative impact possible. The more CPAs who speak to lawmakers about issues that impact our profession, the louder and more influential our voice becomes. Register today at MACPA.org/CPADay.
- Register to attend an upcoming MACPA town hall meeting: These meetings are where we will educate you about the issues that are impacting you and your clients, so you’ll be able to let your legislators know how the profession feels about these issues. The next town hall meeting will be held on Dec. 4. Register here.
- Respond: When we send you an e-mail that says we need you to contact your senator or delegate and pass along a message about a particular issue, do it immediately. Again: The more CPAs who participate in this process, the stronger our voice becomes.
“I need as much of your attention on this as possible,” Hood said. “Make sure your online MACPA account is updated with your home address so we can match you accurately with your legislators. We need the collective power of our profession. There is strength in numbers. Let’s show it now.”